Sorry, Product Managers: We Do Actually Own The Dysfunctions Of Other Teams

When we talk about the “product manager”, the emphasis always seems to be on the “product” part — which, okay, isn’t really a surprise, since we’re managing products.

However, we’re doing ourselves and our companies a disservice if that’s all we’re doing.

Kilowog explains the importance of being a hardcore product manager.
Image source: Comic Book Resources

“I’m Strategic!”

Various people talk about product management’s increasingly strategic role, and how we can lead teams and drive alignment by focusing on goals and market data.

That’s true insofar as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.

Many times, I fear product managers come across as modern-day Neros, fiddling while the rest of the organization burns. Because it’s not our fault that engineering can’t do this, or marketing can’t do that, or whatever. We’re above all that. If other teams can’t rally, they’re the problem, not us.

That Thinking Is Broken

It’s time to stop thinking that product management is somehow Above The Fray.

Having data is great. Making it accessible and understandable and meaningful to people inside your organization is better.

Focusing team outputs is great. But if they can’t achieve those outputs because of team dysfunction, and you’re allowing them to flounder, then you’re part of the problem.

Because, when you allow them to flounder, you’re not acting like a leader. You’re acting like passive-aggressive, all hat, no cattle version of a leader — and that’s no good to anyone.

The best leaders and managers know how to align objectives across departments and resolve conflicts through understanding and teamwork.

If you’re truly a leader in your organization, truly a manager, then it’s your duty to help make sure the organization functions as well as your products.

In Other Words…

Being “strategic” means more than lurking in the perfect storm of technology, products, and business. It means being a transformational leader who encourages individuals and teams to achieve their potential, and works with other managers to make that happen.

Otherwise, Rome burns. And guess what? No one’s going to care how “strategic” you said you were; you’ll just be another manager who could have done something, should have done something, and didn’t.

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2 thoughts on “Sorry, Product Managers: We Do Actually Own The Dysfunctions Of Other Teams

  1. Interesting. There is a fine line between making up for the dysfunctions of other teams and actually fixing them. Kind of like giving a man a fish vs teaching him how to fish. Christian Almgren made a good point in his comment on this blog post:

    Personally, I’ve raised the issue of dysfunction within Engineering many times, but at the same time allowed it to continue by filling in the gaps myself. All because the product would suffer otherwise. But in the end I’m not doing anyone any favors because we lose the long-term perspective when I’m busy greasing the cogs of engineering
    .-= Per Haglund´s last blog ..What a forced upgrade feels like as an end-user =-.

  2. Hi Per –

    Absolutely right; I’m talking about actually fixing problems instead of ignoring or covering them up.

    I’m definitely not recommending we pick up the slack for other groups. That’d be like the manager who continues doing tactical work “because it’s easier” than showing one of his direct reports how to do the work. In those scenarios nothing ever changes until someone gets fed up and quits because they’re either burned out or under-utilized.

    What I’m saying is actually harder: Having the intestinal fortitude to hold people and groups accountable, and working with management to make sure the organization as a whole is working well.

    Tondin and Christian’s points in that article you linked over are well made: If you focus too much on the “management” side, you could rob yourself of opportunities to be out in the market talking to customers. Like anything else we do, it’s a balancing act–and it isn’t easy!


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